Then and Now – Number of Champions Racing

When the Formula One World Drivers Championship started there were obviously no current world champions, but with Nino Farina winning the title that first year, and the next two title holders (Juan Manuel Fangion and Alberto Ascari) racing, there were three eventual title holders running that first season.  Including the year’s champion in the list of ‘current champions’ along with all previous holders of the title, and listing driver’s who have yet to become champion as ‘future champions’ the history of Formula One looks like this:

Champions per season[1]

For the first decade, the number of champions racing in any season fluctuated between three and five.  This was due to the championship just having started, and the domination of Juan Manuel Fangio (winning five titles in that period).  In the early sixties that rapidly changed, with Jack Brabham, Phil Hill, Graham Hill, Jim Clark and John Surtees winning in successive years.  The number of active championship winner rose dramatically to seven or eight.  The greater danger of that period meant that some of their careers were shorter then than they are now, although both Jack Brabham and Graham Hill had impressively long F1 careers.

As the seventies progressed the number of current champions fell from the high point of six in 1970 to three by the middle of the decade.  Perhaps more worryingly for the series was the number of future champions that dropped down in the eighties to one (Nigel Mansell) and Nelson Piquet, Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna dominated the championship. However with ten championships between them, it is perhaps unfair to state that this period didn’t have enough quality drivers.

Through the nineties the number of future champions recovered, as the next generation made their debuts (Michael Schumacher, Damon Hill, Mika Hakkinen and Jacques Villeneuve).  However as these drivers won their championships and the number of current champions rose, the number of future champions dropped down to zero.  This a direct result of the dominance of Michael Schumacher in the early 2000s.  The numbers did recover though as the champions who would follow Schumacher started in F1 (Jenson Button, Fernando Alonso, Kimi Raikkonen, Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton).  For a season in 2012 when Schumacher and Raikkonen had returned to F1 after their sabbaticals, once again F1 had six current champions racing, a figure only seen once before in 1970.

With no one new winning the title since Sebastian Vettel in 2010, the line for future champions has again dropped to zero, but this is I hope false, but unfortunately my crystal ball doesn’t allow me to accurately predict how many of the drivers now racing will one day pick up the champions trophy.  However the number of current champions (Fernando Alonso, Kimi Raikkonen, Lewis Hamilton, Jenson Button and Sebastian Vettel) hasn’t been seen since the mid-eighties.  Part of this is down to the length of the drivers career these days, but if the quality of the field in the late eighties can be considered high because of the number of titles that Piquet, Prost and Senna had (10), this current field must be at least as good as the five champions currently racing have won every title for the past 11 years.

So who out of the current drivers do you think will win a world title before they have finished with F1?  Rosberg may be the favourite, given his current form and car, but perhaps you favour Daniel Ricciardo or Max Verstappen.  What about an outside bet on Pascal Wehrlein or Kevin Magnussen?  History would indicate that only a few of those currently racing will find themselves with the opportunity to win the title.